LOS ANGELES — As many as 1 in 13 pregnant women drink alcohol, despite repeated warnings from health care professionals that imbibing can cause problems for their unborn child.
In a report released Thursday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 51.5 percent of nonpregnant women age 18 to 44 said they had used alcohol in the past 30 days. Among pregnant women of that age, 7.6 percent said they had used alcohol in the previous month, and 1.4 percent described themselves as binge drinkers — now defined as four or more drinks at a time.
The analysis covered data from 2006 to 2010 and showed some slight improvement when compared to an analysis of 2001-2005 data. In the earlier data, binge drinking by pregnant women hit 1.8 percent. Among nonpregnant women, however, the earlier survey found that 12.6 percent said they had engaged in binge drinking, compared to the 15 percent in the current survey.
"If you're pregnant or even thinking about getting pregnant, stop drinking alcohol," warns the March of Dimes, a leading advocacy group, on its website. "Alcohol includes wine, wine coolers, beer and liquor. There is no amount of alcohol that is proven to be safe."
In 2005, the surgeon general issued an advisory urging women who are pregnant or who might become pregnant to abstain from alcohol use, according to the CDC.
In the report Thursday, the agency noted that "pregnant and nonpregnant women of childbearing age who misuse alcohol might benefit from public health interventions … such as increased alcohol excise taxes and limiting alcohol outlet density."
The latest findings come from self-reported survey data and do not examine the circumstances of the alcohol use, a CDC spokeswoman said by telephone.
The CDC said it analyzed 2006-2010 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a state-based, random telephone survey that collects information on health-related behaviors. The survey included data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, covering 345,076 women age 18-44. The study had 13,880 pregnant women and 331,196 who were not pregnant.
When it came to frequency and intensity of alcohol use, pregnant and nonpregnant women reported similar rates. Both groups said they went on binges about three times a month and had about six drinks per binge.
Among pregnant women, those 35 to 44 had the highest rate of alcohol use, 14.3 percent.
Binge drinking accounts for more than half of the estimated 80,000 average annual deaths and three-quarters of $223.5 billion in economic costs resulting from excessive alcohol consumption in the United States, according to a report released in January. That methodology was slightly different than the current findings.
That earlier report found that the prevalence of binge drinking among men and women was 17.1 percent.
Among binge drinkers, the frequency of binge drinking was 4.4 episodes per month, and the intensity was 7.9 drinks on occasion. In 2010, binge drinking among men was twice that of women, 23.2 percent to 11.4 percent, according to the report.